Former Cherokee Nation Foundation Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland speaks at a 2013 college scholarship seminar in Claremore, Oklahoma. On Dec. 9 District Judge Bart Fite denied two motions Gilliland’s lawyer requested in a civil lawsuit against her. PHOENIX ARCHIVES
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Dec. 9 ruling, District Judge Bart Fite denied motions to dismiss and stay a civil case against the former executive director of the Cherokee Nation Foundation, Kimberlie Gilliland.
In response to a Dec. 2 hearing, Fite wrote the court finds that “the five-year statute of limitations applies to all the causes of action contained in the plaintiff’s (CNF) petition,” and “therefore, defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied.”
Gilliland’s attorney James Proszek had argued in the hearing that the statute of limitations for Gilliland’s case had expired.He claimed the limitations statue for charging Gilliland ended in April because, he said, the latest charges against his client occurred in July 2013.
According to a case filing, the 22 counts against Gilliland stem from a more-than-two-year investigation alleging irregularities in her salary, travel, spending and awarding of CNF scholarships.
Gilliland was appointed CNF executive director in August 2009 and served until July 2013.
The CNF is a nonprofit corporation created under CN bylaws to put more Cherokee students through college with scholarship opportunities. It also provides ACT preparation and programs starting in elementary school to encourage higher learning.
During the hearing, CNF attorney Ralph Keen Jr. said the CN operates under a five-year statute of limitations, which supersedes the previous two-year limitations statute.
The CNF is seeking a repayment of funds allegedly embezzled or converted by Gilliland and is asking for a civil judgment of $232,000 in actual damages and $928,000 in punitive damages plus the costs and fees associated with bringing the litigation, including a “reasonable” attorney’s fee.
Proszek – of the law firm Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable of Tulsa – also asked the court to stay the civil case while a criminal case filed on July 28 against Gilliland proceeds.
The nine counts listed in the criminal complaint allege irregularities in Gilliland’s travel, spending and purchasing of equipment for the CNF office.
Proszek argued his client could incriminate herself by testifying in the criminal case that is to be heard in March before the civil case is heard.
“That kind of choice is something she shouldn’t have to face. There’s no question she would face prejudice in the civil case if convicted in the criminal case,” he said.
Keen argued it is not unusual for a defendant to face civil and criminal cases simultaneously. He said, based on previous cases of this nature, a defendant must have clear arguments of “hardship and inequity” to receive a stay.
“She has no constitutional right to a stay because of parallel cases,” Keen said.
The court agreed and denied the stay motion on Dec. 9.
“There has not been a sufficient showing of substantial prejudice to the defendant that would entitle her to a stay of this action pending criminal proceedings in this court,” states Fite’s order.
Also, during the hearing, Proszek argued that his client is not in a position to pay fines and restitution to the CNF if convicted because she lost her job at Bacone College in Muskogee after charges against her were filed. He said he is taking her case on a contingency basis. He also argued she does not own two homes as has been suggested by the CN.
However, Keen provided evidence that Gilliland and her husband, Andrew Sikora, own a home near Lake Tenkiller, which is held in a trust under Sikora’s name and was for sale for $85,000. Keen said he hoped the civil case could be decided in a timely manner to allow the CNF to gain the proceeds if the home is sold soon.
He added that the proceeds would be used to repay the scholarship funds allegedly misspent by Gilliland, which “victimized” Cherokee students needing college scholarships.
“These are the true victims. For counsel to say somehow she is victimized by this is outrageous in my opinion,” Keen said.
In his July 27 filing, Keen said the CNF’s mission is to provide higher education opportunities to qualifying Cherokee students as a means of reaching their full academic potential.
“Significant assets have been wrongfully embezzled and converted to the detriment of those deserving students. It is my client’s solemn duty and obligation to utilize the full extent of civil law to recover those assets and return them to the mission for which they were intended and entrusted,” Keen said.
Proszek said he was looking over the Dec. 9 ruling and considering their options on how to respond, including filing an appeal.